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In this country, irresponsible still get benefit of doubt

April 06, 2011 | 07:45 AM
I know some people are in a state of panic.

There is just more than a week left until your federal income tax returns must be filed with the Internal Revenue Service — well, sort of.

After a search of the IRS.gov website late last week, I found there were 1.1 million people in 2007 who did not file their federal income taxes. Apparently, these people are owed more than $1.1 billion in refunds.

According to the IRS, they now have until April 18 to file their 2007 return and collect their money. The information also states there is no penalty for filing a late return qualifying for a refund. I can only assume we'll hear the same about 2008 and 2009 in the next two years.

There's just something that doesn't feel right about this, so I looked further.

The IRS information also states some people may not have to file because they had too little income to require filing a return even though they had taxes withheld from their wages.

Basically, if you make $10,000 or more as a single person head of household and are under age 65, you must file. Same goes for a married couple, filing jointly and are younger than 65, making $18,700. These numbers weren't exactly easy to find on the website and they appear to be different depending on filing status and whether you can be considered a dependent and on and on.

But, there is no question according to the IRS that the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity for claiming a refund. I would guess many of you didn't know that little tidbit.

Now, the information from the IRS does state the 2007 refund checks will be held if these same people have not filed for 2008 and 2009. It also states the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS and also may be used to offset unpaid child support or past due federal debts such as student loans. I would hope so.

If no return is filed to claim a refund within the three years, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury.

According to the numbers, there were 12,900 people in Wisconsin who didn't file with a mean potential refund of $593 each. In California, 124,000 individuals who have a potential refund didn't file, and 91,700 in Texas who have a potential refund didn't file.

I filed my returns more than a month ago. Actually, this was as late as I have filed in quite some time. It also was the first time I used one of those software programs you have to buy unless you have the easiest of returns to file. I used to do it by hand on paper, but this year they didn't send the book and all the forms I needed, so that meant it was time to try it a new way.

Ever since I was 19, I have completed my own taxes and filed on time because that's what I thought responsible people did. Even when I made a pathetic amount of money while I was in college, only working in the summer, I still filed, just like I thought everyone else did and was supposed to do. I never considered not filing.

So, now I find out that if you are going to get a return from the government, you can wait a few years, file and still receive your refund. I guess the responsibility of what you're supposed to do no longer matches up with what you can get away with.

If you don't file on time, you shouldn't be able to collect your refund. Most of these people probably never even started the tax preparations, so do you think they knew whether they owed or deserved a refund? Probably not. That means they wouldn't have filed no matter what.

What are these people thinking when everyone else in the country is talking about April 15, receiving their W-2s, talking about whether they are going to go to H&R Block or use Turbo Tax?

Do they just sit there and think to themselves that they aren't going to file? Do they consider filing and just don't? Do they not understand the tax code or why they need and should file?

These answers we don't know, but one thing is certain, they shouldn't be given second, third and fourth chances to do what they should have responsibly done in the first place.

Seiser is the editor of the Regional News.

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